Jays Innings limits may no longer be a problem


For a long time, the Toronto Blue Jays were adamant about limiting the usage of their young pitcher’s arms but that approach seems to have changed. The Jays are experimenting with an approach catered to each pitcher to create a healthier and more sustainable pitching staff for the future.

Earlier this year, Tom Verducci, an acclaimed baseball writer of SI, wrote a piece about inning limits and the effects they can have on pitchers from year-to-year. In it, he labeled a list of players who were, “in the danger zone,” for this coming season based on substantial increases in the year prior.

Among them were two Blue Jays, Marcus Stroman and Daniel Norris. Verducci argued the players on the list were subject to regression because of a larger than normal increase in innings pitched the previous year. Stroman represented a 34.8 per cent increase while Norris’ 130 innings represented a 40.33 increase.

It’s impossible to know if Stroman would have regressed this season, according to the theory, now that he’s out for the entire season. Even if he returns and doesn’t perform, it’s far more conceivable that people point to his knee, not his arm, when explaining a potential off year.

But in Norris the Jays will embark on an experimental campaign filled with calculated decisions about when the right time may be to have him sit out a start. With the possibility of bringing Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna north as well, inning limits may become the broken record of the 2015 season.

According to Alex Anthopoulos, the Blue Jays are shifting their approach on the inning limit problem from their historical 20 per cent annual increase. This former approach was most apparent when the Jays elected to sit down Brandon Morrow in 2010 after 146 innings and a year later with 179.1 innings. But how did that work out for them? To Jays fans’ recollection, he wasn’t exactly known for being the Cal Ripken Jr. version of a pitcher.

So the Jays are doing what anyone does when an idea isn’t working; they’re adapting. They’ve evolving. The Jays, as they should, have elected to evaluate their pitchers on an individual basis monitoring soreness and fatigue, among other factors, per pitcher to get a better understanding of when each pitcher needs a day off or shutdown throughout the season.

“We’re re-evaluating innings and the way we look at some of those things, so we’re not set on a number,” the general manager said during an interview with Shi Davidi of Sportsnet. “We talk about it, monitor it but we’re not so much married to 20-inning bumps, or 20-percent bumps, or 30-inning bumps – we’re just not going to be fixated on a number. We’re going to monitor workloads as the year goes on.”

Had their hard cap approach continued, both Aaron Sanchez and Norris would be shut down around the 160 inning mark this season. Castro would be around 80 innings while Osuna would garner a mere 40 innings at most.

The merits of the new approach are pretty simple. They were evident in starter Drew Hutchison last season as Hutchison threw more innings in 2014 than ever before after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012. The methodology with Hutchison was to monitor his health on a game-by-game basis. This is why fans saw pitchers like Liam Hendriks make spot starts throughout the season, giving ailing pitchers like Hutchison the night off.

Rationally, that’s the right approach to take instead of blanketing all pitchers with the same program. Let’s face it, the mechanics of Norris and Castro aren’t the same. Few pitchers are, so why have the exact same throwing development program as they progress? Obviously, this was Anthopoulos’ thinking as well.

As the regular season is set to begin next week, there will be many questions throughout regarding the positioning of the Jays’ youngsters. It seems though, there is new-born, fruitful, approach to the issue: take it day-by-day and see how things go.